Naked Ambition

I want to be the next Porno King of Hong Kong! Take this image to bed with you tonight. Louis Koo surrounded by a vast sea of naked female breasts. Breasts to the right of him, breasts to the left of him, breasts looking him square in the eye and others shyly staying behind him. Seventy naked breasts all keeping him company as he calmly sits there chatting with an interviewer (Bey Logan) about his life as the publisher of a weekly magazine on the sex industry in Hong Kong. Not in the least bit fazed by this buffet of goodies, Koo tells Bey that over the past couple of years he has seen over 10,000 naked breasts and so this is nothing new to him. Ya, it’s good to be a Porno King – or is it?
The sex industry has played a large role in Hong Kong films for a long time with club hostesses and prostitutes often being central or peripheral characters in hundreds upon hundreds of movies. Though one almost begins to take it for granted after a while, it is really rather a strange phenomenon that is like no other film industry in the world. In Hong Kong, the prostitute drama is truly a genre of its own and there are very few actresses that have not played a prostitute/bar girl at some point in their career. The last two years has seen some interesting twists on this genre – first with the wonderful Golden Chicken that explored the life of a prostitute from youth to middle age and then two recent films have shown the sex industry from the other side – from the perspective of the man - in the comedic Men Suddenly in Black in which five friends make a night of whoring and this film, Naked Ambition, that is about men surveying the sex industry. Though I enjoyed Men Suddenly in Black quite a bit, I was disappointed in that I felt it pulled its punches and didn’t have the nerve to cross the line into dubious morality – i.e. none of the men get laid for all their trying. Naked Ambition isn’t as good a film as Men Suddenly in Black in many ways, but I admired it for crossing that moral line and throwing the question back at the male viewer – how differently would we have acted?
Andy (Koo) and John (Eason Chan) both work for a magazine and are made redundant together. Along with some of their other redundant co-workers they decide to open a magazine of their own. But what kind of magazine they ponder – the only ones that seem to make money are academic ones or porno ones – with naked women dancing through their heads like sugar plum fairies they wisely choose . . . porno. This isn’t just another typical pornographic magazine filled with page after page of naked women though – this is a guide – sort of a Zagats of the sex industry. In it they want to inform their readers of the do’s and don’ts and who does what and who does it well. A consumer report in other words. This sort of information of course entails field work – lots and lots of field work as Andy and John visit all sorts of establishments from massage parlors to hostess bars to small brothels to solo entrepreneurs in apartments.
Initially they meet with resistance from the owners of these places but once these owners learn that a good review in the magazine will lead to a rush of new business (“a room filled with horny sperm”) and lines out the door and exhausted lock-jawed workers, they happily co-operate. Even the triads (Tats Lau) beat a path to their doors with hopes of getting their places mentioned favorably in the magazine. Both men have girlfriends (Cherry Ying and Denise Ho) and so they have a strict hands off the goods policy and simply report what they observe – at least for a while. They meet some interesting and colorful women in their travels. Titty Bird (Jo Koo) who cheerfully advertises her “big bouncy tits”, Kiki (Nicky Chow) who is a drinking game expert and tends to pass out during sex and of course Tess Tickles (get it?) played very gamely by Josie Ho who is a master of the fire and ice technique* in oral sex. She is also my calendar girl for the month because my doctor has informed me that I need to eat lots of bananas for my potassium deficiency and this is certainly a good reminder!
This all sounds like great fun of course but behind the sex, the naked breasts, the money and the fame what does it all mean and is it really fulfilling. Hell yes! I mean – no of course it isn’t – not when you hurt the people you love and in the end that seems to be the message of the film. It seems that films like this always have to contain that sort of dour message in the end as if everyone would otherwise run out and try to be a Porno King and the film doesn’t want to be irresponsible. There is lots to like in the film – though its two-hour running time could easily have been cut to make it tighter – a charismatic performance from Koo, a solid one from Eason, some great supporting roles, an interesting story line (based I believe on a true story) and every one of those seventy breasts!
At the same time the film never takes on the substance that one feels the filmmakers (Dante Lam and Chan Hing-kar) may have been aiming for (ala the Citizen Kane of Porno producers) – it is very much at its best when it is simply being outrageous and fun – and becomes a bit tedious when it gets serious. My very favorite Hong Kong DVD store worker Paul at Lai Ying told me that the film has some hilarious dialogue/puns/double entendres that are completely missed in the subtitles.

* Fire and Ice – alternating mouthfuls of ice cubes and hot tea – please be careful!

My rating for this film: 7.0